The perception of childhood is quite complex because it is perceived by adults, who attempt to extrapolate their past childhood experience and their current adulthood experience on the perception of childhood. In this regard, the perception of childhood is particularly challenging in literature, which aims at children. In this regard, it is possible to refer to Zohar Shavit, who stands on the ground that the perception of childhood in the children literature is very specific and needs careful understanding of needs of children and adaptation of literary works to their level of cognitive development.
At the same time, Zohar Shavit attempts to trace the evolution of the perception of childhood in the course of time. In this regard, the author places emphasis on the fact that “up to the seventeenth century the child was not perceived as an entity distinct from the adult, and consequently he was not recognized as having special needs” (Shavit, 131). Instead, children were treated as mere commodities. They were perceived just as under-adults and people paid little attention to needs and wants of children. Children did not receive any education and they just imitated the adult world as they grew up and learned certain models of behavior from adults. As a result, children did not have their needs, which adults would meet. Instead, children had to live in the world, where adults took the lead and paid little attention to children. In this regard, the appearance of the early children literature marks the beginning of the new era, when the perception of childhood and children has started to change dramatically.
In the past, children have no education, they were supposed to have no special needs, they did not even have toys to play. However, in the course of time, the attitude of adults to children has started to change. They have started to perceive children as a source of entertainment of adults, when families, at first of the upper-class mainly, gathered to watch and listen children, who were dressed and prepared by their parents to amuse the audience. In such a way, people have started to view children as being different from adults and this was probably the first step toward understanding and meeting the needs of people. In this period, the life of children has started to change. They even got toys to play, although they were replica of subjects from the world of adults mainly.
In the course of time, the attitude of children has changed even more. To put it more precisely, according to Zohar Shavit, the society has eventually come to the point, when adults have started to understand needs of children or, to put it more precisely, they have understood that children have special needs and they are different from adults. As a result, adults should focus on needs of children and meet the capacity of children and their cognitive level of development. At the same time, the children literature should pay attention to how the literature represents childhood.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the perception of childhood differed throughout time. The perception of childhood evolved from the negligence of children and childhood to the understanding of difference of children from adults to attempts of adults to meet needs of children.
Perrault, Charles. “Little Red Riding Hood.” The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. Ed. Jack Zipes. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1993. 91-93.
Shavit, Zohar. “The Concept of Childhood and Children’s Folktales: Test Case—‘Little Red Riding Hood.’” Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. Ed. Alan Dundes. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. 129-158.